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Bridge over ageless water
New CD bridges generation gap for student producers, music professors

Oct. 17, 2006
By Alison Green

Think Tito Puente meets Dizzy Gillespie. If you're too young to get those musical references, then the name of the band they describe will make perfect sense: Los Viejos Blanquitos. Translation: "The Old White Men."

Listen to a few clips:

The men who make up this Latin jazz sextet may be, in fact, older and white, but their music is a tribute to the energetic rhythms of Latin and Afro-Cuban music. The qualities of jazz harmony, melody and improvisation have earned LVB a devoted following in the Athens music scene -- and a recording contract with student record producers less than half their age.

Now in its fourth year, LVB is made up of six accomplished musicians who sideline as faculty in the School of Music: Associate Professor of Saxophone and Jazz Studies Matt James on saxophones, Associate Professor and Director of Percussion Studies Roger Braun on marimba and percussion, Andre Gribou on piano, Dave Messina on electric bass, Emeritus Professor of Percussion Guy Remonko on drums and percussion, and Professor Emeritus of Trumpet Ernie Bastin on congas, flugelhorn and percussion.

"I knew about Los Viejos Blanquitos because I was in Andre Gribou's rock history class and I helped maintain his Web site," former vice president for artists and repertoire of Brick City Records Ryan Gross says. "I thought, 'Why not look at these guys from a scouting standpoint and not just as professors.'"

Gross took the initiative and recorded a two-track demo from an LVB concert in 2003 at local music venue Casa Cantina. Although signing a Latin jazz ensemble is not typical for a student-run record label -- heart-broken college guys with guitars is more the standard -- Brick City Records noticed the group's exceptional talent, energy and perpetually growing fan base around campus and took a chance in approaching LVB about the possibility of producing a CD. The group had not yet produced a CD and agreed to let the students take on the challenge.

Photos by Makella SlavickMore than a year later, Gross and junior Ricky Chilcott, current president of Brick City Records, can boast the completion of a recording titled "LVB-file under latin jazz." As this is the record label's second album, Chilcott hopes it will help put Brick City on the map. "LVB plays in the Columbus area as well, so we hope that will extend the knowledge of our name."

The process was perhaps more work than the Brick City students initially expected. The first recording session was held during the spring of the 2004-05 school year and follow-up sessions and editing lasted throughout the 2005-06 school year. While most university record labels are eager to get albums out right away, Chilcott explained that the professors expected their album to sound as close to perfect as possible. He said it's difficult, from the student perspective, to make comments to faculty on what they should do differently, especially faculty who are accomplished musicians. "Sometimes you just can't argue with 50 years of musicianship all in the same room."

Gross adds that although the process was tedious at times, the album would not have turned out sounding as good as it did without the faculty members' close attention to detail. "Of course there was friction at times with all those people together in the same room, but without that friction ... it would be lacking."

Because the producers were students, they did not charge LVB for their recording services. "It took a lot of time to get everything to sound exactly how we wanted it to sound, but it was nice compared to the ordinary circumstances where you have a clock running and the dollars adding up," said percussionist Braun. Typical recording and producing sessions can cost thousands of dollars.

Free recording services weren't the only thing that drew LVB to the students -- they looked forward to giving the fresh faces a chance to work with professional musicians of their caliber and to sharing some of their knowledge about the music business. "We were eager to give the students the opportunity to hone their skills," said saxophonist James. "They also got the chance to interact with us in way that's different from the classroom."

The sheer number and type of instruments used by the ensemble was a technical challenge in itself. "It's six instruments that you don't often see together in the same room at the same time," James added. "Making the sound on the album appear as though you were actually in the room listening to it live is a daunting task." He said at times it was just trial and error and everyone had to work together to "achieve something we all liked."

In addition, neither Gross nor Chilcott had any prior experience in the business aspect of running a record label, so some outside-the-studio homework had to be done. "I had to check out some books and really study up on contracts," Chilcott explained. "I never knew how hard it was to run a record label until I tried," Gross reiterated. 

"I didn't learn things from the professors in Los Viejos Blanquitos in such an academic way. I learned a lot in how they approached their music -- how they wanted things to sound," Chilcott added. "Sometimes this differed from my own ideas on how things should sound, but none of us wasnecessarily wrong, we just had different ideas."

Percussionist Braun maintains that the process was a learning experience on both sides. "I learned a lot more about what a producer actually does. It's not easy for them," he said. "In a way we were all co-producing this album and that in itself was a rewarding thing." As for LVB's goals for their first album: "We just hope students and individuals who may have had no interest in Latin jazz get a chance to hear it and like it," Braun added.

"It's fun to see the students' faces when they realize that we all really can play and that it's not just something we talk about in class," Gribou added. "There's nothing else quite like that for musicians."

Now that the recording is finished, there's no more appropriate place to host the Oct. 20 LVB CD release party than the place where the CD first began. Expect a packed house at Casa Cantina Friday night.

Alison Green is a writer with University Communications and Marketing. Photos by Makella Slavick.


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Published: Oct 17, 2006 9:43:00 AM
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